A VISION: Modernization and Finance Committee

Steering the Leviathan

By Lee Butterfield

Teacher at South Anchorage High School, Modernization and Finance Committee Member 

Without arguing the merit of what Steve Jobs brought to the world, I propose we open this discussion with the cliche concept of a quote. Jobs said, “We’re here to put a dent in the universe”. Let that settle in for just a moment. No, seriously, take the amount of time it would take to check how many people like the last picture you posted to think about the gravity of such a statement.

What an absolutely ridiculous and absurdly dangerous goal; yet, we have an entire two or three generations of people who now hold supercomputers in their back pockets because of such ridiculous goals. We haven’t set those goals as educators in a long time. For too long, we have feared the ridiculousness and absurdity of fantastical goals. We have allowed ourselves to become mired in an endless rut of a few points higher on this exam, or that test, or in a new test with no baseline yet set. We have created our own prison out of the idea that metrics are goals. We have put our children, the very people who will one day cook our food, write our software, administer our healthcare, drive our busses, run for our political offices, and vote for our leaders, into little boxes inside larger boxes and all these boxes are trying to look the same. It isn’t working. Those not finding success suffer anxiety, depression, and a fear of failure so powerful that they shut down and simply acquiesce to attempt to learn. Those students meeting what this system considers success suffer from anxiety, depression, and a fear of failure so powerful that they are willing to crush themselves under a systemically-driven, self-imposed workload that would destroy most adults already in a career, simply to achieve the metric that has little to do with their actual goals. Colleges and employers are screaming that our graduates, even those meeting our metrics, are not prepared. It isn’t working; define insanity.

The gauntlet was thrown, and a group of extraordinary people came together to lasso a leviathan and convince it to change course for the betterment of our children, our future economy, and our current fiscal realities. The ideas presented reflect months of research, conversation, and compromise as to what the future of education in Alaska may look like, and over the next few months, you will read endless accounts promoting personal favorites, visions of the future, and propositions for making it all work. At this moment; however, it is my turn.

Good teachers teach content. Great teachers teach students. Fantastic teachers utilize a collection of highly specialized and practiced skills with a deep and researched understanding of how the human brain works to design spaces and experiences which do both. My favorite, my vision of the future, and my proposition for making it all work is simple: Get out of their way.

Too many times, teachers are limited by the concept of every room in every school teaching the same subjects, and students are limited in the availability of credit courses that match their interest and their current levels of knowledge and ability. The current system is the machination of decades of best intentions stacked on top of each other with no pressure release valve, no mechanism to navigate the cluttered waters between Scylla and Charybdis.

The Modernization committee’s third goal of systemic collaboration for the purpose of innovation opens a clear pathway, if properly implemented. Allowing teachers to develop and implement credited learning opportunities with each other over vast distances and with collaborating professionals and business, allows for engaging, credited, real-world learning experiences that are not found often in the current education model. Presently, teachers who create such opportunities face vast amounts of added and unnecessary work simply to implement something good for students within a system that inhibits such activities due to its current structure. These goals seek to upend that structure.

This process will not be easy. Egos will bruise. Enshrined programs of the past will disappear. Some people and positions will find themselves obsolete. That is a hard lesson learned in any systemic shift.

The teacher, however, will remain. Technical savvy isn’t the requirement for teachers to be fantastic at what they do and modernization isn’t simply defined as owning a supercomputer or a robot maid. The act of teaching how to learn remains ever the same throughout all time. The ability to connect with students in a way that motivates them to want to know more, do more, create more, and learn more will always be the pinnacle skill of all teachers who earn the rank of fantastic. As long as the implementation of the goals put forth by the committees of the Education Challenge is done with honesty and integrity, we will see the opportunity for teachers and building level supervisors to set amazing goals for their students beyond simple single day metrics.

We tell students to shoot for the moon and make a plan for how to get there. It is time we pick up a hammer and start knocking on the universe.

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The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.